Reflecting On My Path to Becoming a Software Engineer

This was originally posted on LinkedIn as part of a series by Maya Pope-Chappell

The holiday season is a wonderful time of year. The food. Seeing family and friends. More importantly it is a great time to reflect on the many things in which we are grateful. On a professional level, I’m extremely grateful for my career as a software engineer. I have learned many things, traveled many places, and met many people. However, I did not always want to be a software engineer. I’m writing this to share my path, which was molded by various people and experiences, to share my learnings and to hopefully guide someone to choose a similar career path.

Your Past Contains Clues to What Career Path to Choose

I did not always have the idea that I wanted to be a software engineer. I was exposed to computers and technology continuously throughout my life. Over time, that interest in technology morphed from wanting the latest technology to wanting to create new technology. My father introduced me to computers at an early age. He sat with me on our home computer and took me to local computer shows. I did not have an idea about software engineering at that point, but I could fix your computer.

When I lost my father as a teenager, my mother made sure I kept up my interests in technology, despite not being tech savvy herself. She enrolled me in free after school lessons to learn HTML, Javascript and C++. At the time, I saw it as something technology related to keep me busy, but nothing more. Not much more than that. Looking back, it was really the beginning of me getting groomed to become a software engineer. In high school, I participated in FIRST Robotics. Creating software to control robots and going to competitions really piqued my interest in software development. When it came to selecting a major for college, I knew I wanted to be an engineer because of my constant interaction with technology throughout my life.

Try Software Development Now

My first introduction to software engineering as a teen left me feeling lost. But after some practice and more exposure, it all started to make sense. For students looking to get into software development, I offer one piece of advice: Start now. Nowadays, there are trainings to get students involved in programming at a very early age. There are also coding bootcamps that introduce you to software development in a condensed curriculum. People are switching careers to become software developers. The world is realizing how much need there is for more software developers. It’s key to start early. Even if it doesn’t make sense the first time, eventually it will.

Use Failure to Your Advantage

Interviews are hard, especially for someone just starting their career. You want the hiring company to be confident in your abilities. You have to remember all of the facts you have learned throughout school. You just don’t want to embarrass yourself, period. All of this pressure as you walk into the interview room can be scary. The key here is to interview a lot to improve. That means, apply for jobs everywhere. Jobs you are even less likely to take. For me, interviews are still scary but the more interviews I have done, the better I have become. There were times I have blanked on basic knowledge in interviews. One time in particular it was really embarrassing to me and a referrer because I was introduced as this stellar candidate to only flop. Regardless, after all my interviews, I would always ask how I could have done better and learned from my mistakes.

Remember What Motivates You

As a software engineer, I enjoy the complexities of solving software problems. But it’s easy to find yourself lost. When times get tough, it can be easy to lose focus on why you’re doing your task and to focus more on the possibility of failure. This is probably the biggest threat to anyone learning software development and causes people to give up. Software development can be hard at times. You may want to switch majors. You may think it’s not for you. While I was in college, I wanted to make those who invested time and energy to get me where I am today proud. I kept them in mind and they motivated me to keep pushing through my college years. To this day, those individuals are still my motivation to continue doing my best and have pushed me to where I am today.